2012. Wow. One of the greatest ever Olympic Games, a nail-biting Tour de France, an edge-of-the-seat Premier League title … and the return of Dallas to our screens. Lurking just below this year of incredible achievements – and Dallas – were some incredible albums, along with some not so incredible ones.
The year kicked off on a positive note, January and February bringing some of the most interesting releases of the year. The highlight, for me, was Porcelain Raft‘s ‘Strange Weekend‘. This is an excellent album full of sometimes subtle, sometimes sweeping vocals and harmonies that reminded me of some of the finest moments from Mercury Rev’s career. I was also rewarded by repeated listens to both the electronic indie of The Big Pink’s ‘Future This’ and the observationally titled ‘The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy’ from Nada Surf, their first album in four years.
One of my other favourite albums from the first quarter was Mark Lanegan‘s excellent ‘Blues Funeral‘. The former Screaming Trees frontman released what I would say is his finest collection of songs to date and even had old friends Josh Homme and Greg Dulli helping on the odd track. The high anticipation for the new album by Sleigh Bells was never really fulfilled. Despite more typically loud full-on guitars and brash, in-your-face electronic metal from the duo, ‘Reign Of Terror’ lacked the crunch of the band’s excellent debut.
Surpassing expectations, though, was ‘Ghostory‘, the third album from the superb School Of Seven Bells. Now officially a two-piece, the guitar work of Benjamin Curtis and vocals of Alejandra Deheza have never sounded so good. Electro beats and samples alongside influences such as The Cocteau Twins and My Bloody Valentine created an album full of superb songs such as ‘The Night’, ‘Lafaye’ and, one of my tracks of the year, ‘When You Sing’.
It was certainly a good year for some of the more established singer-songwriters. New albums from Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and two albums from Neil Young were all met with acclaim, while fans of The Blue Nile (myself included) were very happy with singer Paul Buchanan’s solo album ‘Mid-Air’. Paul McCartney, however, decided to show yet again how far he still is from his best by churning out the pretty awful – and surely the worst named album of the year – ‘Kisses On The Bottom’.
Some established bands also decided that 2012 was a good time to show their faces. Public Image Ltd recorded their first album in years (with the financial help of John Lydon’s butter adverts) and who would have thought that Brian Wilson and Mike Love would be able to work together again in The Beach Boys? With hatchets buried (temporarily), the band released ‘That’s Why God Made The Radio’, which, perhaps surprisingly, contained some fine songs – my favourites being the title track and the album closer ‘Summer’s Gone’.
Special mention, however, must go to Bill Fay, whose latest album, ‘Life Is People‘, was his first for over 40 years. A stunning album that, complete with an excellent performance of ‘The Never Ending Happening’ on Later With Jools Holland, showed an artist still writing and performing some of his best material, decades after he made his name. Perhaps Macca should take note.
With fitness levels kept high by constantly running away from the Emeli Sande and Lana Del Rey albums, being played seemingly non-stop in every supermarket and coffee shop in the UK, it’s a surprise that these two artists were not mentioned among Farah, Wiggins and Ennis as names that will inspire the nation to do more exercise. You could be forgiven for thinking that these were the only two albums released in the build up to and during the Olympics. However, there were some fine albums released in the months before London 2012. Among my favourites were releases from The Shins, M. Ward, Spiritualized, Jack White and Best Coast. Beach House released another fine album of melodic melancholy with the excellent ‘Bloom‘, while my favourite album from this period of the year was Santigold‘s second studio album, ‘Master Of My Make Believe‘. With some of the finest producers in tow – including Diplo and Switch – the album was a perfect fusion of dubstep, R&B, pop and rock, the highlight probably being the excellent single ‘Disparate Youth’.
For some weeks in July and August, it felt as though nobody had actually released an album – which was almost true. Apart that is, from the welcome return of Nas with his tenth studio album, ‘Life Is Good’, and another of my favourite albums of the year, Frank Ocean‘s ‘Channel Orange‘. Tracks such as ‘Pyramids’ and ‘Thinkin’ Bout You’ showcased a singer in top form willing to take risks and experiment to create one of the best R&B albums I’ve heard in years.
Post Olympics, the release schedule suddenly became busier than a transfer window at Arsenal. David Byrne, still showing his idiosyncrasies, produced the excellent ‘Love This Giant’ album with St Vincent. The XX followed up their Mercury Prize-winning debut with ‘Coexist’, while the new Pet Shop Boys album sadly failed to sustain its early promise towards the end of the album.
With the big hitters now taking centre stage, Grizzly Bear‘s ‘Shields‘ provided one of my highlights from the last few months of the year. The American indie four-piece, who are signed to Warp in the UK, provided their most ambitious album to date with songs such as ‘Sleeping Ute’, ‘A Simple Answer’ and ‘Sun In Your Eyes’ helping to produce a balance in songwriting somewhere between experimentalism and heartbreak.
At this point, it’s worth mentioning a few more albums which haven’t quite made the final ten or so, but which are certainly worthy of featuring in a list expanded to twenty or thirty. These albums include Hot Chip’s ‘In Our Heads’; Frankie Rose’s ‘Interstellar’; First Aid Kit’s ‘The Lion’s Roar’; the excellent ‘Visions’ by Grimes; ‘A Different Ship’ by the continually improving Here We Go Magic; ‘Prisoner’ by The Jezabels, and ‘Boys & Girls’ by Alabama Shakes. So many fine albums in a year that it feels a shame to narrow down to just a dozen.
One of my very favourite albums of the year arrived in early October – Tame Impala‘s Lonerism‘. Heavily influenced by American psychedelia from the late 60s and early 70s, the album has been on my playlist for many many days since. The Australian band’s album will no doubt appear in lists of the great albums of the 2010s, and has already featured as the best album of 2012 in numerous publications.
As though having one album featuring in the albums of the year list was not good enough, Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker has two. A ‘side project’ of some of the core members of Tame Impala, Pond released their latest album, ‘Beard, Wives, Denim‘, to mass acclaim earlier in the year. Discussions have ensued on which is the better and my vote would go to Tame Impala, but only just.
My final two choices both came out within a few weeks of the Tame Impala album. Bat For Lashes released her third album, ‘The Haunted Man‘, which gives us more proof that she is a consistent, often intense talent, who continues to develop and exploit her wide range of skills. The song ‘Oh Yeah’ is a particular favourite of mine from the album.
My final selection is also a third album, from band who, like Bat For Lashes, never fail to surprise or intrigue, if not with their album titles. The last Crystal Castles album, ‘Crystal Castles II’, was my favourite album of 2010 and although the latest album, ‘Crystal Castles III‘, may not quite live up to it, there are some excellent tracks to be found, such as ‘Kerosene’ and ‘Mercenary’.
Looking at my iPod now I see that my most listened to album of 2012 was ‘Ghostory‘ by School Of Seven Bells. Therefore, it would only be fair to say that this was my album of the year.
There was again a fair amount of negativity in headlines about the music industry in 2012, but it’s hard to argue with the quality of the output from such a wide range of artists. This will no doubt continue in 2013, and, with the news just breaking of a new David Bowie album on the way, this year may well even surpass the last one.
– Damian Evans